Saturday, October 29, 2011

Circling the Sufferer

Selected passages from the great book of Job

 Everyone can identify with some aspect of Job’s suffering: areas of family, personal health, and material possessions. It is not simply suffering that bothers us but unjust suffering. We grow up as children understanding that doing wrong equals punishment, but as adults we discover that there is sometimes no correlation between wrong doing and suffering. Job gives a voice to suffering. He protests… straight to the top. However, Job does not curse God or explain suffering. Job comes to see suffering as a mystery and develops respect for that mystery. But let’s look at the book of Job from an entirely new viewpoint, from which we’ve probably never looked from before… rather than relating to and identifying with Job, consider how we resemble Job’s friends, especially in the way that you relate to suffering people.

Job’s friends had good intentions to help but only added to his misery.

Christians can be a great comfort or a great burden to hurting people.

How can we, as Christians, be a comfort rather than a burden to hurting people?

There are three steps that Christians must take to comfort hurting people:


“Sufferers attract fixers the way road-kill attracts buzzards. And buzzards are sure ugly!"

 What kind of things from well meaning friends do suffering people hear?

1. Eliphaz   chp. 4

If you’re a good person, you don’t have to worry, because only the evil suffer.
I had a vision from the Lord…
If I were in your shoes, this is what I would do: appeal to God and count your blessings.

2. Bildad   chp. 8

God took your children, because of their sins, and if you don’t repent, you’re next.
So, repent and ask God’s forgiveness for whatever you did wrong.

3. Zophar   chp. 11

You don’t have any right to be angry at God.
There are some things that you just can’t understand.
Repent of your sins and reach out to God.

Characteristics of their comments:

a. They used the Word of God.

b. They gave spiritual diagnosis and prescription.

c. Some of their general statements were technically true but they were:

“Answers without personal relationship, intellect without intimacy.” Eugene Peterson

According to them, anyone who lives intelligently and morally is exempt from suffering.

Pattern to their behavior: (especially true of men!)

Appropriate the blame.
Attempt to fix the problem.
Accusation of failure.

How do suffering people feel when they hear things like this?

Job’s response to his friends: Job 16:1-6, 10, 19:1-6, 21:1-3, 26:1-4. Read these verses!


1. No matter how insightful we might be, we don’t really understand the full nature of their problems.

2. Our friends may not want our advice.

3. People do not suffer less when they are committed to following God, but more.

Three great contributions of the book of Job:

1. Witness to the dignity of suffering.

2. Witness to the presence of God in suffering.

3. A Biblical protest against religion that is reduced to “answers.”

“There is meaning beyond the mystery.” Rabbi Abraham Heschel

But we must become satisfied with the mystery. Job learned this lesson. See Job 42:1-6.

If you have to find the remains of Noah’s Ark to believe the Bible, if you have to analyze the DNA evidence of the Shroud of Turin to believe in Christ, if you have to understand why Godly people get cancer, why children die in house-fires, or why marriages fall apart to believe in God, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:1, 6


Rather, than trying to prevent suffering, which is impossible, we should begin entering the suffering, entering the mystery and looking around for God. See Job 33:23-28.

We can be that angel/messenger, the mediator, to tell them that there is a “ransom” provided. God left the very portals of heaven and took upon Himself a robe of flesh. See 1 Peter 2:21-24.

“There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

We have been called to suffer with Christ.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.” Philippians 1:29

“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10, 11

We have been called to suffer with others.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

If you are really part of the body, but do not suffer with the rest, one must question your relation to the rest of the body. At best you are either spiritually numb to the pain or a wayward prodigal in the far country.

Stop feeling sorry for them.
Look up to them.
Learn from them.
If you are allowed, join them in protest and prayer.

Pity is near-sighted and condescending. Shared suffering can be dignifying and life-changing.

But we cannot walk in their shoes and share their suffering, if we are not willing to get dirty. The message of the gospel is this: we are not only called to share in the suffering of our friends and family, but also with the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the poor, the hungry, and the lonely.

(I built this lesson quite a few years ago with the help of several sermons I had read. I don't have the names of those authors any longer but I am truly grateful for the material of theirs that I "borrowed". ~ Mick.)

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